Archive for December 2013
By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Still reling from the Great Recession, middle class Blacks are maintaining their status by using credit to help cover their basic living expenses, according to a report from the NAACP and public policy research organization, Demos.
In the Recession’s aftermath, 79 percent of middle class African American households carry credit card debt. And although they have less debt than before the Recession, the credit crunch continues as Black households spend an average $368 on credit to make ends meet.
“The report highlights the need to look at how much credit is serving middle class Americans and how much it’s giving a false illusion,” says Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, senior director of the NAACP Economic Department and co-author of the study. “Everybody needs credit but it should be a tool to help your economic life. Now we see it as a drain on African Americans trying to gain a middle class life.”
Released earlier this month, the report, “The Challenge of Credit Card Debt for the African American Middle Class,” is an outgrowth of a larger national study on middle class credit card debt since 2010. It found that although African Americans owe less than they did in 2008, 42 percent of households are relying on their cards for basic living expenses when their incomes and savings fall short, a trend that persists across the entire middle class. Black families are also building their futures on credit, using cards to support higher education, entrepreneurship, and medical expenses.
“Use of credit in long term investments for the future is a specific African American problem, largely because of the historical impact of racism in wealth building, and current racial bias in lending,” says Demos policy analyst, Catherine Ruethschlin, who co-authored the study. “Hypothetically, if [an African American] family was in America during the ’60s but excluded from the same wealth-building that White families had, [they] don’t have the same financial assets to fall back on.”
The seeds for economic dispartities seen today have been sown over 50 years of redlining, blockbusting, and predatory lending. Today Black Americans have $1 in assets for every $20 owned by White Americans, and, according to the study, more than half of it is tied to homeownership.
Enter the Great Recession, when the housing bubble inflated by predatory lending practices bursts, dragging the global economy and hope for long-term Black wealth down with it. Only 55 percent of the study’s Black respondents own their home, compared to the 72 percent of White respondents.
If homeownership has been considered the cornerstone of the American Dream, then education has been considered the bulldozer that clears the way. According to the report, 80 percent of Black college grads took out some amount of loans in order to attain a higher education, compared to 65 percent of Whites.
Credit debt as a result of student loans can then affect career outcomes, as credit checks are sometimes part of the hiring process. Those with poor credit are often relegated to low-paying jobs due to this dubious but legal practice.
For this and other reasons, entrepreneurship has also been considered a path to the good life. In the study, an overwhelming 99 percent of indebted moderate-income African American households who had expenses related to starting or running a business in the past three years still carry that expense on their credit card bill.
Ruethschlin explains, “If you don’t have access to small business loans because the market went dry during the Recession, those with the worst credit history are going to be the last to get back into the system. It shifts an additional financial burden. It could be those additional challenged that make it harder to run a successful business.”
Interestingly, Black and White households reported different reasons for poor credit: 44 percent of White respondents cited late mortgage payments and using all or nearly all of their credit lines while 40 percent of Black households cited late student loan payments and credit report errors.
However varied the causes, middle class credit use and debt levels are similar across race–it’s the consequences that raise eyebrows.
“I’d assume before this report that there would be greater disparities [in card use], but even the amount of debt we have is not that different,” Asante-Muhammad says. “What is different is that we have worse credit scored and receive stronger collection tactics.”
The report found that African Americans and Whites had similar rates of card default, late payments, bankruptcy, eviction, and repossession. However, 71 percent of African American households had been called by bill collectors, compared to 50 percent of White households. African Americans in the report were also more likely to report card cancellations, limit reductions, or credit rejections in the last three years (53 percent of Black respondents compared to 36 percent of Whites).
Even if credit score isn’t a problem, indebted African American households face higher interest rates, reporting an average APR of 17.7 percent on the card where they carry the greatest balance. For White households it’s 15.8 percent.
Despite this, African American respondents were less likely to moderate their card use as a result of higher rates, which suggested to the authors that Black households have less of a choice in staying afloat.
“It’s not surprising that the middle class relies on credit cards to get their expenses met,” says Nikitra Bailey, executive vice president of the Center for Responsible Lending. “When we think of the catastrophe caused by the Recession, most families didn’t have wealth resources necessary to fall back on. Our own reports show that the typical household only has about $100 left over every month after needs are met.”
The government stepped in in 2008 with the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act, which has helped at least a third of the African American respondents in the study pursue financial freedom. The CARD Act attempts to create a more equitable and less predatory credit climate for all Americans through billing transparency and plain-language credit terms and conditions.
“The CARD Act has been really useful and is working in the manner intended,” Bailey says. “What’s unique about the Act is that it provides transparency around credit bills without the bait-and-switch we saw before the act. Late fees have dropped more than half, and credit delinquency is the lowest it’s been since 1994.”
In its first year alone, the CARD Act halved the amount of late fees Americans paid, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Most Americans have noticed a warning on their bill about the consequences of making a late payment (77 percent of Americans), or only paying the minimum (70 percent).
Bailey believes that with support, these trends in greater credit debt management will result in restored homeownership, stronger communities, and a strong economy overall. The report makes similar assertions and offers both state and federal policy recommendations for fostering fairness in the credit industry, including an expansion of the CARD Act’s success.
“Too often people fall into the false narrative of African Americans that the wealth disparity is due to undisciplined spending habits, but if you look at the report you see that they’re using credit for basic living expenses,” Asante-Muhammad points out. “The problem isn’t around spending, the problem is income inequality, wealth inequality, and a decline in opportunity for middle class African Americans as a whole.”
In August, Mr. Lawsky’s office began an aggressive campaign against the payday lending industry, seeking to stamp out Internet businesses that offer small, short-term loans at exorbitant interest rates that violate state usury laws. Among the businesses he attacked were several that are run by, or have connections to, Indian tribes across the country.
The tribes argued that their sovereign status protected them from regulation by New York State. The two plaintiffs in the case are the Otoe Missouria Tribe, in Red Rock, Okla., and the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, in Watersmeet, Mich. The Otoe Missouria tribe operates American Web Loan and Great Plains Lending, and the Lac Vieux Indians run CastlePayday.com.
“We obviously disagree with how the court has resolved this issue and we will be pursuing an appeal in the hopes of getting a different answer from the court of appeals,” said David Bernick, of the Dechert firm, who is representing the tribes.
At a hearing last month, Mr. Bernick had argued that his clients’ businesses were being ruined by Mr. Lawsky.
“My clients’ businesses are being destroyed because New York has decided that tribal sovereignty doesn’t matter to them,” Mr. Bernick said at the hearing. “This is an exercise in arrogance, and people are suffering as a result.”
Mr. Lawsky has countered that he has the power to protect New York consumers from Indian-run businesses that reach beyond their reservations’ borders. The judge appeared to agree with Mr. Lawsky’s position, concluding that the activity New York seeks to regulate is taking place within the state.
“These consumers are not on a reservation when they apply for a loan, agree to the loan, spend loan proceeds or repay those proceeds with interest,” Judge Sullivan said. “These consumers have not, in any legally meaningful sense, traveled to tribal land.”
This is the second decision that has gone against the Indian tribes in recent days. Last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rebuffed a bid by three Indian online lenders to halt the federal agency from investigating whether their business practices violated federal laws. Richard Cordray, the bureau’s director, rejected the argument that his agency had no jurisdiction over Indian tribes.
“Indian tribes, like individual states, do not enjoy immunity from suits by the federal government,” Mr. Cordray said.
Last year after speaking to the senior class of Armstrong High School, I was prompted to visit Creighton Court, the neighborhood of my infancy. As I wrestled with where my life began, I reached out to my parents because I wanted to understand how my family went from living in public housing to homeownership within five years.
My father shared that, in addition to his working multiple jobs simultaneously and my mother also working, plus having extended family support, a strong faith and work ethic, he developed the habit of saving weekly and investing in a company-sponsored profit sharing plan. The savings and equity accumulated through profit sharing would become the down payment for our first home.
During our conversation, I realized that while employment is vital, it is not enough to alleviate poverty, the most critical issue facing the Richmond Region and the nation.
Any community that does not come together to resolve the poverty issue will be at a competitive disadvantage. While poverty is primarily concentrated in our urban core, it is no longer solely confined to our cities or rural populations. It’s increasingly sowing seeds of despair among our suburban neighbors.
We witness the result of poverty in many of our classrooms, where it shows up as failing grades and low test scores that are often misdiagnosed as learning deficiencies or behavioral issues. We must ask ourselves: “How can students focus on learning when their primary provider is unable to offer them the basic resources needed to succeed in the classroom and life because the provider is unemployed, underemployed or overleveraged?” These economic challenges not only stress the family structure, but contribute to failure in the classroom, which later commonly leads to unemployment or underemployment, thus passing on a legacy of poverty to another generation. In most cases, this is not because of a deficiency in character or lack of care by the parent, but due to insufficient education, employment and equity-building opportunities.
Poverty is an ethical and an economic issue that requires a holistic response.
What steps will the Richmond Region need to take to face the most critical issue impacting us in the 21st century?
The Maggie L. Walker Initiative for Expanding Opportunity and Fighting Poverty is moving in the right direction by exploring how to create social enterprises that focus on offering synchronized economic, social and environmental benefits.
The IBM Smarter Cities Challenge Report to the City of Richmond advocates that “social enterprise should be a priority in helping RVA to address social economic issues in economically underserved communities.”
Why is social enterprise critical to the city’s mission of alleviating poverty?
Successful social enterprise in the Richmond Region can create exponential impact by:
(1) Emphasizing entrepreneurship in distressed neighborhoods;
(2) Growing a skilled and competitive workforce that earns a living wage;
(3) Partnering with anchor institutions to leverage buying power and generate capital for local social enterprise initiatives that revitalize communities; and
(4) Introducing wealth-building opportunities such as employee stock owned programs (ESOPs), co-ops and community-based IPOs.
What would social enterprise look like in Richmond?
The Economic Development Task Force of the mayor’s anti-poverty initiative is recommending the creation of social enterprises in some of Richmond’s most economically challenged neighborhoods. Anchor institutions rooted in the region — including major health care providers, universities, local government and major businesses, to cite a few examples — would commit to doing business with newly created startup ventures. The new enterprises would provide goods and services needed by the anchor institutions and the anchors would provide a reliable income stream for the new businesses.
These businesses would pay living wages, offer career advancement and introduce wealth-building mechanisms for employees such as ESOPs. The goal is to increase employment and income, build infrastructure and offer basic wealth-building strategies that result in residents being able to contribute to the development of healthier children and families and sustainable organizations and neighborhoods.
While the region emerges as an entrepreneurial hub that’s creating jobs and attracting new residents, it’s important that our economic development plans do not bypass our neighbors who live in our most vulnerable communities.
Ongoing education and training opportunities that offer the skill development and job training support needed to be employable are a must in order to align the unemployed and underemployed with the growing employment prospects. In addition, financial literacy and ancillary services like child care, housing and public transportation are essential if we expect to achieve lasting success.
A challenge of this magnitude calls for a shared vision by leaders and citizens who are committed to regional cooperation and willing to embrace nontraditional alliances and who have transformative public and private discourse that focus on solutions and processes that strengthen us as a region — and stretch us beyond personal fears, past failures and historical boundaries.
The magnitude of this initiative requires our collective will to succeed and must bring together our best from all segments of our region, including citizens, local and state government, universities, businesses, the faith community, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.
There is a need for public policy that encourages social enterprise and is complemented by traditional and impact-based philanthropy. Also, innovative financial vehicles such as micro lending, social impact bonds and crowdfunding are key to creating a transformative model that is good for business, good for the environment and good for all the citizens who call Richmond home, regardless of what “End” or “Side” we live in.
Like any new business venture, there is risk, but it’s a risk worth taking if it puts Richmond on a path of economic vitality that transforms our region. Equally important, it can change the trajectory for a generation of families and children who deserve a fair chance to live the American dream.
Robert Dortch Jr. is a business development and strategic coaching consultant, and chairs the Social Enterprise Committee on the Maggie L. Walker Economic Development Task Force. Contact him at
Remember playing Legos as a kid? You could quickly take a random pile of blocks and build something solid. The steps to building wealth are not so different, as the process involves a series of small decisions that move us along, one building block at a time.
It is from those daily decisions that individuals build wealth, says J. Landon Loveall, founder and president of Cumberland Wealth Planners in greater Nashville, Tenn. What you do now will determine where you are financially 20 years from now.
The steps to building wealth begin with a clear intention to attain it. After all, accumulating money is not a haphazard occurrence, but a deliberate process.
Once you determine that attaining wealth is a priority, focus your energies on maximizing your income, saving a portion of it and investing it for growth. Building wealth also requires you to make decisions on potentially destructive forces that erode wealth, such as inflation, taxes and overspending.
Building your income
Your income represents the foundation upon which you build lifetime wealth. The higher your income, the greater your potential for accumulating significant assets.
When youre young, the value of your future earnings is your No. 1 financial asset. Find a job you love, invest in educating yourself and keep abreast of changes in your career field.
The lifetime return for making these investments at this time is greater than saving in Roth IRAs, or any investment, even factoring in the power of compounding, says Certified Financial Planner Joe Alfonso, founder of Aegis Financial Advisory in Santa Clara, Calif.
To stay on top of your field, take advantage of college savings plans with tax-favorable characteristics that are available to students of all ages.
Going hand in hand with earning money is the ability to live within your means and plan for contingencies.
By far, the most destructive forces to building wealth are inertia, procrastination and, ultimately, magical thinking — couples passing away peacefully and synchronously just after they spend their last dollar, says Certified Financial Planner Melissa Einberg, a wealth adviser at Forteris Wealth Management in Purchase, NY They simply fail to plan, not only for retirement, but also possible obstacles they will face on the way to retirement.
Saving your money
Saving money is the next step to building wealth. How much you save is a measure of how efficiently you use the wealth-building opportunity in your income. In their book, The Millionaire Next Door, Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko discovered that self-made millionaires are very efficient at turning income into wealth.
Find the best high-yield savings account.
Ultimately, it comes down to a balancing act. The most important decision is how to balance current spending with future savings, or living a good life now versus saving for a great life in the future, says Loveall. Both he and Alfonso advise clients to save at least 10% of their annual income.
Rick Kahler, president of the Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, SD, would double that to 20% or more until you have six months to one year of living expenses for an emergency fund.
In addition to creating an emergency fund, Kahler, co-author of Wired for Wealth, advocates opening a separate savings account for purchases of future cars, car repairs, vacations and Christmas gifts. The rest of your income can be spent on current consumption.
For most people, this means living on 30 to 60 cents out of every gross dollar you earn, he says.
Saving can be an easily accomplished, automated process when signing up to contribute to a workplace retirement plan such as a 401(k). Kahler warns against leaving money on the table if your employer offers a match on a 401(k) plan. Its like turning down a guaranteed 100% return. Its a no-brainer.
He suggests maximizing your contribution. Currently, the contribution limit is $17,500; $23,000 for those 50 and older. If youre truly motivated to build wealth, after maximizing your 401(k), contribute to an IRA. The contribution limit is $5,500; $6,500 for those 50 and older. (The tax deductibility of IRA contributions may be limited if you contribute to a workplace plan and your earnings exceed certain levels.)
If self-employed, set up a retirement plan that will allow you to invest as much as possible. Investing in a tax-sheltered account such as a Solo 401(k) cuts taxable income now and enables you to build wealth by deferring taxes until you take distributions.
Putting your savings to work
Wealth-building strategies include investing in paper assets such as stocks and bonds, buying income-producing real estate and owning a business — or all three.
Experts generally agree on the importance of such core investment principles as keeping a balanced and globally diversified portfolio, and diligently rebalancing to maintain your investment plan. Maintaining a long-term perspective is also important.
Successful investing is about discipline, understanding of your tolerance for risk and, most importantly, about setting realistic financial goals and expectations about market returns, says Einberg.
Studies have shown that an asset allocation policy can explain most of a portfolios investment returns over time. When investing in stocks, diversifying across markets both domestic and international, developed and emerging, is key, says Alfonso. For bonds, closely managing credit and maturity to avoid taking imprudent risk is also important.
Passively managed funds that mimic an index allow investors to build diversified portfolios of inexpensive funds. Actively managed funds generally cost more and are susceptible to style drift, given the leeway managers have in carrying out their investment strategy, says Alfonso.
When choosing investments, your tolerance for risk will likely dictate your asset allocation. Professionals with steady paychecks and generous employer retirement benefits usually can tolerate more risk than a salesperson earning commissions or a young investor starting out — though young investors can afford to dial up the risk by investing more in equities since they have plenty of time to make up any losses.
Beyond stocks and stock funds, many investors are diversifying into nontraditional asset classes, such as commodities, managed futures, merger-arbitrage and market-neutral or long-short funds, as well as absolute-return mutual funds. These alternative funds aim to hold up in all types of markets with less volatility. They also help to fight inflation — that seemingly benign annual increase in the price of goods and services that actually destroys your purchasing power over time.
While choosing non-correlated assets to increase diversification is important, Alfonso advises investors to stick to a prudent investment strategy, regardless of market conditions. Keep investment costs as low as possible; net returns will be higher. And, most importantly, never try to time the market.
As famous investor Peter Lynch once said, Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.
Pitches from the debt settlement industry sound good: Who wouldnt want to get out from under a mountain of credit-card debt for pennies on the dollar? But too often, these for-profit companies leave consumers even deeper in debt.
Not all debt settlement companies, which have mushroomed nationwide since the Great Recession and the housing market crash, are unscrupulous. Like payday lenders, they probably have a place in Ohios smorgasbord of financial services. But they need adequate regulation to protect vulnerable consumers.
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Ohio has such regulation. Its 2004 debt-adjuster law limits the fees debt collection companies can collect, including 8.5 percent or $30, whichever is greater of monthly debt payments. Those charges come in addition to service or consulting fees.
Proposed state legislation backed by the industry would remove debt settlement services from the Debt Adjusters Act and remove the caps, giving the industry a free hand with desperate consumers. Lawmakers should kill the bill, or at least amend it to include fee caps.
The average debt settlement client carries between $25,000 and $30,000 of credit-card debt, without enough income to pay it off. Consumers with debt settlement plans typically stop paying off debts while the settlement company negotiates with creditors to accept less than the debtor owes. Consumers deposit money in a special savings account that debt settlement companies use to leverage settlements.
But creditors are under no obligation to negotiate. Failure to pay can lead to more debt, additional late fees, harassing phone calls, shredded credit scores, and even lawsuits.
In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission banned debt-relief companies from charging consumers fees before they settled at least one of their debts. That helped, but companies often settle one of the smaller debts first. So interest and fees on larger debts can continue to grow and remain unsettled.
The bill before the state House is bad for consumers. The debt settlement industry does not need the changes the measure includes to operate in Ohio. Theyve been here for nearly a decade, under laws that offer at least minimal protections for consumers.
The Ohio Poverty Law Center and the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio oppose the bill. Linda Cook, senior staff attorney for the law center, a statewide advocacy group, said most complaints about debt settlement companies come from senior citizens, who are especially conscientious about paying off debts and avoiding bankruptcy. More of them, she said, are entering retirement saddled with debt and mortgages that exceed the value of their homes.
Backers of the House bill say it would afford consumers more protections, including requirements to disclose costs to the debtor. But the FTC already mandates these consumer protections.
The industry has been plagued with problems around the country, even after new FTC rules took effect in 2010. These include charges of ignoring state consumer laws and misleading customers. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine warned last year that some companies leave consumers worse off.
Consumers have other options, including nonprofit groups that offer debt management services. If debt settlement companies in Ohio cant operate with reasonable and nonpredatory fees, let them go elsewhere.
STAFF at a Basingstoke firm are playing cupid in a bid to help a bird of prey find a mate.
A female peregrine falcon has been spotted on the top of the AXA Wealth building by local ornithologist Keith Betton.
To help the falcon find love, a nesting box has been placed on the roof in the hope it will assist the bird in attracting a mate. Keith, who is a member of the Hampshire Ornithological Society, said: “There are now 14 pairs of peregrines nesting in Hampshire, mostly on man-made structures rather than their preferred breeding ground of cliffs.
Entrusted with the well-being of former NFL players, UNCs Brain and Body Health Program will expand in December.
The NFL Players Association announced UNC as one of three medical partners last week in The Trust, a program that focuses on the health and success of retired players.
The program provides retired players with health assessments, financial advising and other services to help them transition out of the NFL and teach them how to lead a healthy and successful life.
Jeff Saturday, UNC alumnus and The Trusts midwest captain, said UNC was chosen because of the schools history with researching sports injuries.
(UNC has) seen and dealt with many issues that our former players are and will continue to deal with, he said in an email. Their partnership with The Trust will only strengthen the ongoing effort to improve players quality of life after football.
The UNC arm of the project is led by Kevin Guskiewicz, who has been studying sports concussions and working with retired football players for more than 10 years. He is also one of the founders of UNCs Center for the Study of Retired Athletes.
Karla Thompson, a clinical neuropsychologist who will work with The Trust, said Guskiewicz is an expert on the health care that the NFL Players Associations program is providing.
I have no doubt that the reason UNC was chosen as one of the three sites is because of Guskiewiczs work with both the Players Association and the NFL, she said.
The initiative expands on UNCs existing Brain and Body Health Program that began a year and a half ago by adding an internal medicine evaluation and a sports nutritionist to the program.
Thompson will gauge retired players current cognitive and psychological functioning, performing tests that measure attention, concentration, learning and memory.
I think one of the most pressing concerns for retired football players at this point is the question of whether they are at risk for developing some form of dementia down the road, Thompson said.
The NFLPA estimated there could be up to 500 players a year evaluated, Thompson said.
The Brain and Body Health Program will begin seeing former players in December and expects to be running at full scale in January.
The Trust also supplies monetary support for health services utilized through the program. Previously, players who came to the Brain and Body Health Program had to pay out of pocket if their insurance did not cover the full costs.
As long as they meet The Trusts qualifications, the remaining balance will now be covered. If an individual does not have insurance, The Trust will cover core services, which include MRI tests. This will help meet The Trusts goal of reaching all former athletes who played two or more years in the league.
Program Manager Jonathan Defreese said players have earned the right to receive health care.
These guys, just like any of us, have different health issues, he said. We enjoy working with them.
Q. I have been working hard at paying off my debt to improve my credit score. If a company offers a settlement of, say, 50 percent of the original balance, will paying the lower amount damage my credit score?
A. You are on the right road, but watch out for detours on your trip to a better credit score. What appears to be a shortcut is often a dead end requiring a lot of backtracking just to get back to where you started. This may be one of those turn-right-or-turn-left moments.
Depending on how the account in question is being reported now on your credit report, there are some conditions that might make it OK to settle. Your credit score is one of many assessment tools used by many different companies and individuals to determine the risk of doing business with you. The longer the account is behind, the more damage to your score.
Paying the account in full or as a settlement helps improve your credit score somewhat over time, but not in the same proportion as the damage done to your score when the account went unpaid. So, just undoing the damage wont bring you back to where you started.
If your account is current, then settling the debt for less than the full balance would seriously damage your credit score. The reason is that you agreed to pay in full, and you did not breaking the credit agreement and costing the lender money, which makes you a bad risk until proven otherwise.
However, its unlikely that a creditor would be willing to settle an account that is being paid as agreed. If, in fact, your account is already seriously past due, having the account being listed as paid-settled may actually marginally increase your credit score. The reason is that the account has gone from an unpaid listing to a paid listing.
But remember, there is more to a good credit score than minimizing negative items. When working to improve your score, part of your plan should be to add positive information to your report each month. Paying all unpaid accounts and catching up payments for past-due accounts is important, but having positive accounts with no negative history to drag them down also is important.
Ideally, you have other accounts, such as a mortgage and/or car loan, that have never been late and are being reported as paid each month. Adding a new revolving account or a passbook loan that you pay on time and as agreed each month also would help boost your score.
One other thing you should be thinking about is the process of loan underwriting, in which your credit score is used along with other factors to make a loan decision. You will want to be able to explain to a future lender, landlord or employer the circumstances surrounding the settlement. The story should be short and include why the account was settled and what steps you have taken to make sure the same situation wont happen again.
Please avoid debt-settlement companies. If you must settle a debt, try to do it on your own. If you feel the need for professional help, get a qualified attorney to help you make the offer to the creditor. Attorneys have a strict code of ethics. I cant say the same for all debt-settlement companies.